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Setting Up an Aquarium MaintenanceA tank will only survive for so long without regular, thorough maintenance. Regular water changes and cleaning are vital to the health of your fish. All of the maintenance routines discussed below should become second nature after a while, but it is a good idea to schedule the weekly and monthly tasks on your calendar, just so you don’t forget them or put them off for too long. If you leave too much time between water changes or cleanings, the damage may be irreversible.

First of all, there are some supplies you will need for cleaning your tank. This equipment should be used for tank cleaning only and not for any other household chores. Using the same bucket for tank cleaning as for washing your car, for example, could eventually mix some soap or chemical residue into your tank water and quite likely kill your fish. A minimum of two buckets should be set aside for use in aquarium maintenance. These buckets will be used for water changes, gravel washing, treating sick fish or acclimating new fish, and many other cleaning-related activities.

Daily Maintenance

Take advantage of your daily feeding time to check a few things in your tank. First, look at your fish. Take at least a few minutes to observe them each day. Get to know their appearances as well as their behaviors. Once you become very familiar with your fish, it will be easy for you to notice any changes that could indicate a problem.

Check the temperature of the tank every day to make sure it is at an appropriate level and the heater is functioning properly. As long as the temperature stays within a range of 3 or 4 degrees, your fish should do just fine, but if it is varying more than that, you will want to inspect your heater and perhaps consider purchasing a new one. Another good idea is to touch the tank with the back of your hand any time you are near it, just so you can immediately recognize an extreme temperature change.

Checking the filter should be another part of your daily maintenance routine. Many filters will run reliably for years and years, but at any time, a problem can arise. Make sure the filter is still running and that the water is flowing at the same rate as usual. A filter that is partially clogged or has stopped running altogether will immediately begin to put the health of your fish at risk.

Weekly Maintenance

Several tasks should be performed on a weekly basis, if possible. These include water changes, glass cleaning, and vacuuming.

Water Changes

One of the most serious problems a fish tank will encounter is waste buildup. In the wild, waste will quickly disperse throughout the water, but in a tank, waste can quickly accumulate. Waste buildup is a problem because it can make a tank appear dirty, but it also brings a much more serious problem: ammonia. This substance is produced by fish and by the bacteria that break down waste, uneaten food, and other things in the water.

One way to keep debris buildup to a minimum is to conduct frequent water changes. Regular, partial water changes are unequaled in their ability to keep a tank fresh and your fish healthy. Fish are constantly producing waste (urine, feces, and other wastes, such as ammonia), and in a tank, this waste has no where to go. In a dirty tank, fish are forced to intake these wastes through their gills every time they breathe.

Recommendations on how much water should be changed during each water change vary greatly, from 10 percent to 100 percent. Simply put, the bigger the water change, the better. If you can change all of the water on a weekly basis, your fish will be better off for it. However, since many hobbyists will not be able to find the time or energy to complete that task, a 50-percent change once a week is recommended and seems to work well for most freshwater tanks.

A water change can be simple or more complicated, depending on the method you choose. The tried-and-true bucket and hose method is probably the easiest and most popular. To use this method, simply place a bucket lower than the aquarium and use some tubing to siphon water from the tank into the bucket.

There are also water-driven changers that avoid the danger of spilling a bucket of water all over the floor. These changers use the flow of water from the tap to create suction in a tube. When the appropriate amount of water has been taken out of the aquarium, the flick of a switch allows water to flow from the tap back through the tubing and into the aquarium. Remember to always make sure that the replacement water is the same temperature as the water that was removed to avoid shocking your fish.

Glass Cleaning

Cleaning algae off of the glass once a week will keep your tank looking clean and make for easy viewing of your fish. Keep in mind that algae is not a bad thing, when confined to the glass, so it is a good idea to clean only the panes of glass that you use for viewing and clean any others less frequently. Glass cleaning will be performed with a scraper made of metal or plastic blades or an abrasive pad. Work slowly and smoothly, being careful not to scratch the tank.


Some hobbyists do not vacuum the gravel ever time they change the water, but a good vacuuming once a week is highly recommended. Keeping the gravel free of detritus will allow the filter to function more efficiently. To vacuum the gravel, use a siphon with a gravel tube on the end, plunging the tube into the substrate. As the gravel is lifted partway up the tube, dirt particles (including uneaten food and feces) are sucked up and out of the tank, and then the gravel is dropped back to the bottom of the aquarium.

Monthly Maintenance
Filter Cleaning

Biofilters can become clogged with debris, preventing a smooth flow of water. A gentle rinsing with water from the tank at its normal temperature should be sufficient to clear the filter of any clogs.

Cover Glass Cleaning

Whether you have a glass top or a hood top on your tank, any tank cover will require a regular cleaning. The outside will be dusty, and the inside will have accumulated calcium deposits and algae, particularly near the light. It is especially important to clean the cover regularly if you’re keeping live plants in the tank, as buildup will significantly reduce the amount of light reaching the plants.

Additional Maintenance

One final maintenance concern is in regards to the chemistry of your tank. While this subject is too complicated to speak about in detail here, you must know that it is very important to maintain appropriate levels of ammonia and pH in your aquarium. For a thorough look at this topic, read The Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums (T.F.H. Publications, Inc.).